Amiga 500 NTSC/PAL Toggle Switch - Written Guide With Pics


Amiga 500 NTSC/PAL
Toggle Switch Guide


Why would anyone want to switch between PAL and NTSC video modes on an Amiga? After all, weren't all the best games for this platform made in Europe? I mean, American's should just out right chuck their computer into the trash and acquire one from overseas, correct? Well the answer to the last two questions is a resounding no, actually. As far as I'm concerned, it at least depends upon your point of view, and is certainly not as clear cut as some people online would lead you to believe. I full heartily believe that the best Amiga games were made in America, but unfortunately most people simply do not have any clue what is actually an American Amiga game, or what makes for a game that is best experienced in NTSC mode.
^Left, PAL; Stretched fake wide screen, not proportionally correct. Right, NTSC; As designed

Have you ever noticed how some Amiga games seem to be in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio, despite them coming out during a time when most televisions and monitors had a somewhat square 4:3 aspect ratio? Does a particular game seem to just run a tad bit sluggish, making you want to scream that it's some Atari ST port where the designers had no clue how to take advantage of the Amiga? This could very well be a sign that the game you are playing is actually an American Amiga game that was designed for NTSC machines, but you're playing them on a PAL Amiga or an emulator which is defaulting into PAL mode.

Surely if the emulator God's decide that the machine will default into PAL mode, then the online speculation is true, that nothing of worth was ever made for the Amiga in America? The thing is; 99% of NTSC designed games will run in PAL mode. They are compatible with PAL, but compatibility does not mean you're seeing the game as designed. An NTSC designed Amiga game should run on your PAL Amiga. It will run with stretched widescreen graphics, slower overall gameplay, and possibly slower sound and music as well, but it will run. The opposite is not always true, a PAL designed game has a noticeable chance of crashing on an NTSC machine. Suddenly defaulting the emulators to PAL mode is shown to be more about overall compatibility, and is not a testament on what mode the best games were made for. ^Taking the beauty apart

Are there fantastic PAL games? Absolutely. Chances are that if you're coming to this guide, you've probably seen or heard about a few of those games. You're probably here because you've been led to believe that those great games just won't run on your NTSC system, and you're looking for some way to get around it without resorting to buying another machine from a PAL territory. There are great PAL games. There are also fantastic  hall of fame worthy NTSC Amiga games. While I doubt too many PAL users will be searching out this guide, I firmly believe they should be, for they are playing some of their favorite games in an inferior way. I've already made a guide discussing NTSC/PAL Amiga issues and how to spot those games. You only need to look at my many Amiga reviews to see the wealth of content that was designed for NTSC machines, for nearly all of my Amiga reviews to date have been American in design. I'm in absolutely zero danger of running out of things to review, by the way.

The point for this guide is that those reading understand there is value in both PAL mode as well as NTSC mode. That there is no shortage of reasons for a person to want to switch between these modes when they come across games that run better in one or the other. So our goal is not to perform an irreversible and destructive mod on your Amiga that will forever switch your video mode, but to allow you to switch between either mode to best experience a game. It's a guide for NTSC users as well as those in PAL lands. ^UpLeft; Rev 5 motherboards ineligible, next two; Testing on spare Rev6, last; solder to the real board

In the best case scenario this modification will be a completely free one that can be performed with things you already have. In the somewhat normal household item category (should you be an electronics nerd) you'll need a soldering gun with some solder, some kind of copper wiring (standard speaker wire will do), a simple on/off toggle switch, and finally a drill. Now; not all Amiga's are the same, and on the hardware end this modification will require an Amiga 500 with a revision 6 motherboard, and a Fat Agnus chip with a number of 8372A. This is an ECS compatible board that would have come standard for 1990 and beyond 500's.

Sadly that leaves out many revision 5 motherboards from 1987-1989. I believe it's possible to exchange NTSC and PAL only chips on those boards, but switching between the two is not something that appears easily supported. I would like to note that I was able to buy a revision 6 motherboard that was guaranteed to work for $20. Any revision 6 motherboard, regardless of territory, can be fitted inside any Amiga 500 without any modifications (including power supply). I think it may be worth it to upgrade your Amiga from a revision 5 to a revision 6 board if only for this modification, though it will also provide you several other benefits. From my research it appears as if none of the above will do you any practical good unless you have your Amiga connected to a monitor, not a television. Although I have not confirmed, a PAL television connected to the Amiga in NTSC mode may not work, nor will an NTSC television connected to an Amiga in PAL mode. You may require a computer monitor in the event you don't already have your machine connected to one.

Today I'm covering the Amiga 500, because that's the most popular model, and it's the machine I have and can speak from experience with. My research has led me to believe this modification can also be done on an Amiga 2000 model B, with motherboard revisions between 6.0 to 6.3, along with the 8372A Fat Agnus chip. Most Amiga's after the release of kickstart 2.0 (600, 1200, 3000, etc) have a NTSC/PAL compatible Agnus chip, and may also be a candidate for this switch. The 1200/4000, with kickstart 3.1, can actually switch modes via a hidden boot menu on startup. While that's super convenient, it may also be possible to wire a toggle switch to the 1200 as well for even faster access. You'll have to research those areas yourself, but I wished to point out the other models which may possibly benefit from this modification.
^I first experimented on a spare board (top pic) before going to my real board (bottom pic, jumper 4)

If the thought of using a solder gun on your classic hardware causes your muscles to tense up, I'd also like to point out that there are software options available which can switch your 500 into either NTSC or PAL modes, given you have the 8372A Agnus along with the revision 6 board. For the last 10 years my main method for switching modes has been to use the program Degrader. This program features several useful configuration setups that can be started immediately or set to reboot and survive soft resets of the machine.

Using this programs 60hz mode and 60hz system mode will switch your computer into NTSC mode, likewise the 50hz mode and 50hz system mode will switch your Amiga into PAL. I'd definitely recommend the use of this program so you can understand the benefits of both modes yourself prior to altering your hardware. The Degrader method, being a program, must be put to floppy or hard disk, meaning it will suck up a little time to run. Switching modes via software seems to access your memory in some way, and may cause minor compatibility issues. It was the small 1-2% of issues I experienced with Degrader, along with having grown tired of the time suck with using it that caused me to want this hardware modification for myself.
^Wires soldered to JP4, placing the toggle switch

With your Amiga 500 at hand, take off the cover via the hex screws on the bottom of the machine. Take off the RF shielding and the keyboard. You now have access to your 500's motherboard, confirm that it is a revision 6 board and that you have the 8372A Fat Agnus chip. If you have the board but not this chip, you can buy 8372A and switch it with yours. Jumper 4 (JP4) is our focal point, and is located to the side of the Agnus chip. It is this jumper that controls what mode your Agnus will default to.

I believe when the traces for this jumper are soldered together your machine will boot into NTSC mode, and when the traces are cut between the two, that your machine will boot into PAL mode. If the two points are soldered together, cut the connection. You really should only need new solder to coat your copper wires, as touching your coated wire to the jumper with the gun should fuse them together. Solder a wire to each of the two points on JP4 and hook those wires up to a toggle switch. The basics of the job are complete at that point. If you're not confident in your soldering skills (as I was not), I'd also recommend getting a hold of a defective motherboard to test on prior to going for your actual board. I did mess up my spare board quite a bit before I finally felt I knew what I was doing. ^Soldering wires to toggle switch, covering up with tape, putting her back together

Pick out a spot you'd like for your new toggle switch, though there really aren't a whole lot of options, at least on the bottom of the Amiga's cover. I chose to locate it on the right side of the machine, near the floppy drive. Drill a hole that will fit your toggle, put the switch in, and make sure all the wires are out of your way. Then put your Amiga back together. Now, with a flick of that toggle switch, your Amiga will boot into either NTSC mode or PAL mode. Flip the switch when you want (no need to turn the power off), it will switch modes upon a soft reset. Have fun with those many cool PAL games right in America, without spending money on overseas shipping for their machines. In Europe, show off the incredible amount of NTSC games as they were originally intended to be seen and enjoyed. You can hook up all the accelerators you want to these computers, certain games timings are utterly dependent on which mode you're in, so an accelerator won't actually help you. Play the Secret of Monkey Island 2 (current number 1 rated Lemon Amiga game) in correct (as designed) NTSC 4:3 aspect ratio, with its music at its correct tempo. Have your cake and eat it too!

I hope this guide was useful to some of you, it was an incredible pain for me to stitch all kinds of information together in order to get an idea of what I needed to do for this mod. It's something I've been looking into on and off for many years, but was always scared off for the lack of in-depth coverage on it. Along with that lack of information on the actual process, are a whole bunch of elitist Amiga fans who think they know what you want better than you, and take every opportunity to steer people away from NTSC machines. If you find coverage of something like this, it's usually in a destructive way so NTSC machines will be switched into a PAL machine, giving no appreciation to NTSC software. Words can only do so much when it comes to a hardware mod like this, hope you'll check out my video guide, where I show off the complete process, including soldering the wires to the board.

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